Misconceptions about Learning to Sail a Catamaran with Tim Geisler of Nautilus Sailing

We interviewed Tim Geisler of www.NautilusSailing.com about his week catamaran sailing school. We cover how much experience you need to take his course, common misconceptions, and the big takeaways you gain from the week. Please enjoy and contact Tim via the info@nautilussailing.com email.

He also has an excellent educational YouTube channel and is launching an online catamaran-sailing master class in the coming weeks.

Good morning Tim, it’s nice to be here to talk to you for catamaransite. I’m wondering if you could tell everybody a little bit about who you are, and what you do at Nautilus Sailing.

Morning Diane, It’s an honor to be here this morning. So, Nautilus Sailing. I learned to sail in Southern California many, many years ago. It took about two years to learn how to sail, going every Sunday for a couple hours.

At the time, I was a teacher in inner city Los Angeles: training new teachers, developing experimental education programs. Honestly, I was rather unimpressed by the quality of education. I had eight different instructors at the time. Unfortunately, most of them were these older gentlemen that were very accomplished sailors, but they weren’t the best teachers. Over the process of two years, I learned how to sail and it was great. I really enjoyed sailing but it was always in the back of my mind, “You know what? There’s a much better way to teach sailing than what most folks are doing out there.”

Years later, I was working in the corporate world doing international project management. In 2008, when the economy crashed, I lost my job and my wife and I said, “What do we really really enjoy doing?”

We were spending all of our vacation sailing and both of us loved teaching and we’re like, “Why don’t we try to teach to set up a sailing school that’s just a little bit different, that’s based on educational techniques, and the best educational practices?”

The reality is, it’s one thing to learn how to sail if you live near a coastal community and you can go every Sunday for two years, but what about all the people that live in the rest of the country, right? Folks that live in Colorado, or Montana, that don’t live near an ocean. At the time, we were just seeing these live-aboard courses that were just starting to hit the radar. So we thought, let’s do that! Why don’t we focus on week-long, intensive, live-aboard courses where we can take people to beautiful places in the world to cruising grounds, that maybe one day they’re going to dream of sailing in? We’ll use the best educational practices and we’ll teach them how to sail.

We went through the whole process, we became an official American Sailing Association school, got all of the certifications, and we launched our first base in the Caribbean, and the Grenadines. After that, we added Mexico. Now, we’re up to six bases. That’s what we do now. We focus on these week-long, intensive, live-aboard courses to help people embark on their sailing dreams.

And catamarans, where does that come into the story?

It’s really interesting, I’m sure you’ve seen this too, Diane. When we first started 13 years ago, we were all monohulls. You would show up at any charter fleet in the world and it was mainly monohulls, maybe a couple of catamarans. Slowly, in the last five years, we saw a huge shift. Starting in about 2018, we noticed that all of the charter locations where we were teaching, it was more, and more, and more, and more catamarans. Our clients started asking about catamarans. Now, we run probably over 100 trips a year, 400-500 students annually, and 90% of those trips are on catamarans. Everybody wants to be on catamarans, so we are mainly teaching catamarans. We still get the odd monohull course here and there, but really, the bulk of what we do is catamarans.

As a sailor who was on a cat for a long time, I am sort of partial to Catamarans, so I can understand why people would be choosing them. When people come in, what kind of experience do they have? Or, what kind of experience do you require them to have?

Interestingly enough, most of our clients come in with big dreams and very little sailing experience. It may be like, “Ah! I took out a Hobie Cat back when I was a kid!” or, “Sailed with my cousin a little bit.” Most people are coming in with minimal sailing experience.

We got a lot of gratitude to all the sailing video blogs out there. They really made sailing a little bit more mainstream. People are seeing it, it’s on more people’s radars now, and they’re realizing it’s not quite as exclusive. Honestly, most of the folks coming into our classes don’t have a lot of experience and our courses are designed to take them from the very early stages, where they’re learning all the terminology and all that, to [learning] all the skills, to then be comfortable operating and sailing a catamaran by the end of the week.

You’re talking about people coming in, watching those video blogs. Having known some of those bloggers from being out sailing on our own, I know that sometimes they give a little bit of a distorted view that you can start with almost no knowledge, and sort of stupidly find your way around the world, and it’s all going to be great. What kind of misconceptions do new students have after watching videos like that? What do you have to work on to make clear to them?

You know what, Diane? I think that’s exactly it, right there. We have folks come in like, “The sailing thing is going to be easy. There’s all these beautiful couples sailing around the world. They post videos, and they’re just sipping drinks, and swimming, and snorkeling. It’s got to be easy!”

It’s always interesting. When I’m teaching, at the end of day one, day two, people sometimes have this glazed look on their face. They’re like, “Oh my gosh!”

There is so much to learn. It’s a whole new language of terminology. And then you’re throwing systems on top of that. How do you maintain your diesel? How do you troubleshoot your diesel? It’s not just about raising the white flappy things and sailing.

There’s a myriad of other things that go into it. From knowing what to do in heavy weather, to how do you navigate successfully, or how do you use charting software, and all this. I think people realize, once they’re on the course, “Oh my goodness! There’s no way I would have figured this out completely on my own!” There’s definitely that huge misconception of, “Hey! I’ll buy a boat and sail around the world!”

Oh my goodness! You know, those folks, I’m sure they’ll figure it out, as a lot of the sailing video bloggers have. But the reality is, they’re gonna make so many costly mistakes. To learn that way, there’s going to be a steep learning curve. It’s so much better to go through a formal course, where an entity like us is taking people through over a hundred practical skills, going through three-to-four volumes of materials, in a systematic approach. You just can’t get that by trying to figure it out on your own.

No, I would agree. What we know when things happen on boats, is things happen all the time. Things break all the time, you run into problems all the time. But what you learn with experience is, how to get better at managing problems. How is that something you teach people?

I think the biggest thing is flexibility. I think there’s an attitude that if you come into this, “I’m just going to buy a new boat. Nothing’s going to break, everything’s going to be perfect. I’m never going to have to fix anything.” You’re in for a for a big wake-up call.

Because, as you say, something always breaks on a boat all the time. Being a cruiser is about fixing boat things in paradise. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s going to be about. We really try to teach a mentality of flexibility, and teach people that they’re going to have to embrace their inner MacGyver. When things break and you don’t have the right part, what can you do, to do a workaround? How can you fix it?

We’re trying to teach a mentality when people come into this. Because it is a big misconception, like you say.

I’m guessing, from the way you describe it, that you’re not coming in knowing nothing. At the end of the week, you’re ready to buy a catamaran. What do you see as the process for somebody who knows nothing but wants to get to the point where they own their own cat and they’re off cruising successfully?

Good question Diane. I think one of the big misconceptions is, nowadays we want things quickly. We want things fast. There’s this term that floats around in other industries as well, the zero-to-hero. Whether you’re learning how to kiteboard, or be a chef, or whatever, you’ll do the zero-to-hero in a week. The reality with sailing, that’s just not possible. We can give you all the tools, give you a firm foundation, but becoming a hero, or reaching that level of mastery, takes time.

We tell all of our students we are going to give you a license to learn. We’re going to give you the foundation so you know all the basics. You know how to moor, you know how to anchor, you know how to navigate, you know how to troubleshoot, and all these things. But really, you’re not going to become incredible at this until you put in the time. Everything in life, whether you’re learning how to scuba dive, or fly a plane, or kiteboard, or become a chef, it all takes time and putting in the hours.

We try to make that really clear with our students ahead of time. We’re going to give you an amazing foundation. After this, go out! Start chartering! Get some experience under your belt. If you have your own boat, sail it! Slowly build your experience because that’s key. You can’t expect that after a week-long course, you’re gonna round Cape Horn and 50-foot waves. You need the experience, you need to build up to that.

That makes a lot of sense. Have you heard from students who have taken the course and gone on to buy their own boats? Do you hear back from people?

We do all the time Diane! I think we’ve got just over 4,000 alumni now, sailing the oceans of the world. What’s really cool is, about fifty of our students are doing our courses because they’re excited to become cruisers. They either want to take a sabbatical with their family and they want to sail through the Caribbean for two years. Or they want to buy a boat and sail around the world. About half of our students already have boat ownership in mind. Every year, we hear back from [them], “Hey! I got my boat. I’ve set out, I’ve started!” That’s great.

Then the other half of our students, they’re excited to charter and see where it leads. They may be at a stage in life where they have younger kids at home and things like that, and maybe they want to do some charters for a couple years before they take a sabbatical or go cruising. It really is neat to hear back from students that have learned with us and are now sailing around the world.

Oh my gosh, Tim! Your enthusiasm and the way you’re talking about how you teach makes me want to go back, because I definitely learned that old-school way, where there was a lot more shouting than anything. It’s not a fun way to learn, it doesn’t build confidence. For a lot of women, especially, it builds a lot of fear. I think the idea of being taught how to sail in a really concrete way, that follows best practices, that looks at how people learn is just a a really exciting idea. You’re not going to miss a lot of that information along the way because those old-school courses when you learn from somebody who just is teaching his perspective, there’s a lot of missed things. How can people get a hold of you and learn more about the courses from you in person?

The best place to go to is our website, which is nautilussailing.com. The one thing that confuses people in there, there’s two S’s in the middle. There’s the “S” at the end of Nautilus, and then there’s the Sailing. But nautilussailing.com is the best place to start. There, people can connect with us on social and other places like that.

We work really hard. We’ve released eight different videos now, on YouTube for free. [They] cover the absolute basics. From mooring, anchoring, docking, and all that. They’ve really been well received, because we use the best educational techniques, and we’ve kept it really short and succinct. Those videos now, have over a million views. People are welcome to check that out.

Another thing that we’re really excited about, Diane, is we’re just about to launch an online catamaran-sailing master class, with thirty-six videos. It covers everything: from how to check your diesels, how to light the stove, how to use a marine head, how to use navionics for charting, [etc.]. It will be a paid course, but that’s going to be live in about a week or two. We spent about eighteen months designing and filming this course. Professional videographers, animators to do sketches, and mock-ups, and things. We’re really excited, and we’re thinking that’s going to be a great tool for people, just as they’re in the early stages of exploring this whole catamaran lifestyle and cruising is for them.

That sounds amazing. Is that kind of a pre-course that you might watch before you come and join, and have a sense of what you’re in for, and how much room you really have to put your luggage in?

Exactly! That’s the big thing, Diane. As part of our courses, we send everyone the three-to-four American Sailing Association textbooks. But what we’re finding is, everybody’s so busy that nobody really has the time to read. So all of our students will show up on day one, “I’ve got to confess. I’m so sorry! I had so many meetings and things going on. I read one textbook, but I didn’t even touch the other three.”

So we thought, you know what? People are much more open to watching videos. If we can put these in bite-sized chunks where every video is anywhere from four-to-ten minutes, or so, people are more likely to watch them. We’re excited for our students, anybody that signs up for the course, they’re going to get this master class free, just to help that better prepare them. When they’re on the boat, we can spend a lot more time focusing on the skills and all that, rather than having to cover the theory, and the terminology, and those kinds of things.

Thank you so much Tim, this has been really interesting, and I think our viewers will be quite excited to hear about a sailing school that’s got such a sailor-forward perspective that sounds like its really about making sailing fun, and making it demystifying. Thanks again for your time.

Thank you.

Diane Selkirk

By Diane Selkirk

I love to travel and have spent the past seven years sailing with my family aboard our 40 Woods Meander catamaran - traveling from B.C.'s north coast, to the west coast of the US, Mexico, the South Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia, across the Indian Ocean to South Africa and on to St Helena, South America, the Caribbean and Central America.

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